Keeping Your Own Counsel
As a Rutgers University (Douglass College) alumna, I have found it painful to live through the last two weeks of men (or at least one man) behaving very badly on the basketball court.
Rutgers is an outstanding university that has educated tens of thousands of men and women from New Jersey and around the nation and the world. Its faculty comprises noted experts in many fields and it has been home to significant research, most notably that of Dr. Selman Waksman, who discovered more than 20 antibiotics. Its graduates have included award-winning actors, best-selling authors, Nobel laureates, television anchors, and four-star generals.
When it comes to university reputation, all of these accomplishments took a back seat to an out-of-control coach whose actions were revealed on a very disturbing videotape during the height of March Madness. In the fallout, the coach and the Rutgers Athletic Director―a man who had been lionized only months earlier for securing the school a place in the Big Ten Conference―lost his job.
Without passing judgment on who was guilty of what, and what actions should have been taken as a result, one thing stands out. When the A.D. saw the videotape evidence, he knew there was something wrong and did what many, if not most people in his position would have done before responding: He spoke to the university’s lawyers and human resource staff. And, according to his exit speech, he responded in accordance with their advice.
It is hard to watch the Rutgers videotape and hear the shocking language without thinking that most people in his position might have done something more than administer a virtual slap on the wrist―if they had acted on their gut response.
When faced with moral dilemmas or situations where we are asked to respond to the behavior of other individuals―or make decisions about our own actions―it is wise to seek out knowledgeable advisors, especially those in the legal, financial, and human resources fields, where laws are complex and can result in serious ramifications when violated or ignored. But it may be wiser to give the greatest weight to our own counsel, to what we believe is the correct course.
We must make ourselves aware of the worst case scenarios, but still must ultimately weigh those consequences against what we feel in our hearts is right, and then make a decision we can live with. And we must look beyond the immediate effects of our action, or failure to act. The fear of short-term pain should not be a reason to avoid steps that would ultimately result in a positive outcome. In fact, trying to avoiding short-term pain more often results in down-the-road misery.
While we may not want to lose a knowledgeable worker, if he or she is disruptive to the entire workflow by poisoning the rest of the workforce with a steady stream of negative behavior, it might be better to suffer the consequences of lost expertise in the short term in order to gain harmony and a more productive working environment in the months and years to come.
Every company leader should not only have a sure and true moral compass, but should also ensure that his or her staff, particularly management, has been thoroughly trained in clearly stated organizational values pertaining to acceptable and unacceptable workplace behavior, as well as applicable federal, state, and local laws governing employee and management conduct.